Website accessibility is a hot topic again. While I originally wrote this in 2018, I have updated it to address current news. Sometimes what you do for a living and what you do to help your community, perfectly align. For a living, I help wineries and other small businesses get started and improve. For my community, I help people with permanent vision loss get the tools and information they need to live happier and more independent lives. The recent article in the Wine-Searcher regarding lawsuits in New York and from 2018 on winery website usage by people with vision loss has spurred me to share how wineries, and other consumer businesses, can make simple website adjustments to better serve their online consumers. I want to be clear though, I am not a lawyer and not dispensing legal advice. This is purely business advice stemming from my background as a winery and business consultant and as the co-founder of Hope Vision Foundation.
Why should businesses care about the vision impaired?
Well, to be blunt, they are your consumers. According to the National Center for Health Statistics (CDC), there are 25.5 million adults in the US who have experienced vision loss (trouble seeing even while wearing glasses or corrective lenses). This includes people who are legally blind, have a genetic disposition or disease that impairs their vision, have had significant trauma and people with low vision. Low Vision affects nearly 3 million adults in the US, and it’s the group that Hope Vision Foundation works with the most (yes, that’s a shout out to my organization!) And, as the article points out, the law requires retailers to be ADA compliant.
Low Vision is roughly defined as permanent vision impairment that cannot be corrected with glasses or corrective lenses. The most common causes are Macular Degeneration, Retinopathy, Glaucoma and Cataracts. I specifically mention these diseases because they are common enough that you probably know someone with one or more of them. These diseases primarily affect people over 60. Right now, the bulk of these people are Baby Boomers, but us Gen X’s are close on their heels. If you have a winery, these 25.5 million adults are definitely your customers. That is why you should care.
Information is becoming more digital
The internet has become the way we get information on companies and their products. Consumers increasingly look for information about your company and your products online, specifically from your website and your social media. The use of video and audio on websites is growing, but still the dominant part of just about every consumer website is visual. For vision impaired consumers, websites can be difficult to see and navigate. But, there are some simple ways that companies can make their websites easier to navigate for people experiencing vision loss.
What can you do, easily, to increase website accessibility?
- Change your font and/or increase the font size
- Increase the website contrast.
- Caption your pictures
- Add video and audio
Assess your font
Without going into the specifics of the different eye diseases, there are some common issues for people experiencing vision loss. First, parts of the field of vision become blurry. This has a strong effect on the ability to distinguish fonts. Script typeface fonts and thin fonts are beautiful, but because the letters are not discrete, they can are more difficult to see and make websites difficult to access for people with low vision. Fonts that have a heavier weight and have space between each letter are easier to make out by people with vision loss. Here’s an example that illustrates what these fonts look like to someone with vision loss. While to block type fonts is still discernible, the script type font is no longer legible.
If changing the font is not an option, try using a larger font size. You may be asking yourself why can’t the consumer just change the zoom on their screen? They can. But, the consumer in the group that is most likely to experience vision loss is also in the group that is the least comfortable with technology. Organizations, like Hope Vision Foundation, are trying to change this through education, but it is still the reality for most consumers in this age group.
Increase the contrast
The second common issue for people experiencing vision loss is difficulty distinguishing between objects of similar contrast. In the context of a website, contrast pertains to things that are similar hue (color) or value (brightness). Using color combinations that are high contrast, and using high contrast photos will make your website easier to see. The best high contrast combination is black and white. But, there are others that work well if you are looking for color.
Caption all of your pictures and provide alt text
Providing captions and alternative text descriptions for your photos is an easy and often missed step when posting on a website and is key to website accessibility for the blind. The alternative text is read by screen readers and accessibility aids on computers, smartphones and tablets. This tells the use the purpose of the text. The picture description tells the person what the image is. The best practice is to describe the image without assigning emotions or feelings. Let the person hearing your description make a judgement about emotion. The caption, alternative text and description provide the vision impaired with a complete picture of your website. If you link to other pages through your product pictures, full descriptions allow them to more easily navigate through your website. This is very easy to do to existing photos on your site through the edit photo option. An added bonus is it increases your SEO rating for your site.
Add in video and audio
The beauty of a website is that it is not static. Websites are easily changed, interactive and can engage both our visual and auditory senses. So the question is, are you using all it has to offer? One way to do this is through the use of video. If you have tasting notes, then add tasting videos. Add a quick tour of the winery, tank room or barrel room. Take a virtual tour of the vineyards. There are lots of easy ways to add video and increase the experience your website provides to both your sighted and vision impaired consumers.
I hope this has given you some ideas and simple tools to increase the accessibility of your website for the vision impaired. For more information, or if you have questions, please contact me.